Wednesday, April 22, 2015

a pink dress

I pull the comb through her long hair, a tangle snagging at my hand.

'Ow' Elsie flinches. 'Naughty knot!'

'Sorry' I say and scoop all her hair back behind her ears. 'Go choose a book.'

Molly already has one in her hand. 'Basia!' she declares, and Marek takes it from her. He sits, one girl on each knee, and I look on, taking in their expectant faces.

Marek reads, pointing at the pictures and asking questions. 'Who can see Basia?' Molly points. 'Which dress is she going to wear?' 'The pink one!' Elsie cries.

A pink dress. Unbidden, the image flashes in front of my eyes. It's been haunting me all day and that achey feeling in my core just won't go. She must have been somewhere between the ages of my two. 3 maybe. Floating. The picture was sickening but curiously peaceful. An arm raised by the waves, little legs out straight, shoes still on. Tightly curled hair cropped so short it wouldn't have been clear whether it was a little boy or a little girl in the photo if it hadn't been for her sweet little dress. A pink dress.

Ever since it happened I can't tear myself away from the stories. The outrageous talk of gunships and crude comparisons with cockroaches making me nauseous and lost for words. The shameful 'action plan' of EU ministers prioritising destruction of traffickers' boats and fingerprinting migrants over saving lives. The unscrupulous men who lock desperate people into ships' holds and cram so many of them onto leaky vessels that drowning seems the only logical conclusion. When did so many of us lose our humanity?

I try and drag myself back to the book, to bedtime and daily routine. Unnoticed, I can watch as the girls listen to their Daddy's words, big eyes scouring the pictures for clues, triumphant smiles as they follow the happy story.

She wasn't the only one. A hundred, they say. A thousand people. A hundred children. A hundred little floating bodies. A hundred uncomprehending souls. A hundred short innocent lives.

I am sudddenly furious. How did we create this appalling world? How do we dare put everything into a context of threat and otherness and simply ignore the impossible choices that humans are having to make? How can we bear the poverty and inequality in the world but focus on making our own lives comfortable and avoid challenging this incomprehensible society that puts money above all else, things above people? How can we live with ourselves, in a Europe that has ravaged the rest of the planet but shows no qualms about putting up barriers to maintain our privilege, argue the importance of our good people over here versus those bad people over there, turn our backs while people hand over their life's savings to criminals for a better tomorrow, only to die on our doorstep? Why is it more important to keep people fleeing war, poverty and persecution away than to save the lives of children?

I kiss my girls' heads. They snuggle down into cosy, warm, dry beds. My tears drip silently into their hair.